Passages
Permanent Interactive Installation by Steve Waldeck with Sound and Music by Peter Gena
(Technology Building at the College of Lake County (directions), Grayslake, IL; running every day, 7 a.m - 10 p.m.)

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** the mp3 musical sample now playing is a stereo mix of 8 discrete channels ** | ** this video walkthrough was filmed by Brett Balogh on location at the CLC **

Passages (dedicated August 16, 2007) is composed of a contiguous series of shallow three-dimensional wall-hung pieces. All are four feet high with widths of images varying in progressive intervals. The spacing between the units varies accordingly in proportion to the their widths. The subject matter is an actual American gothic farmhouse and its surrounding environment that stood until recently in Lake County, Illinois. This homage, installed at the College of Lake County, consists of small glimpses of a single reality, filling a corridor that is 96 feet in length with a twisted axis, commencing on one side and then crossing over to the other side. Thus, this singular piece has 16 elements and is basically symmetrical with two sub-themes: one explores the concept of farmhouse “interior” on one wall, while the “exterior” is presented on the continuing opposite wall. Passages uses actual photographic processes, as well as bas-relief forms, painting, lighting, motion and spatialized sound to create a convincing realistic presence.


farmhouse interior views (architectural mockup)


farmhouse exterior views (architectural mockup)

As house and outbuildings are represented via multiple sections, only fragments of reality are shown in each unit. Traveling through this corridor is a temporal experience that allows the passerby to sense the interconnectivity of the units in a natural but distinct progressive order. If the viewer passes through the corridor at a brisk rate, then Passages is perceived only as a series of bright glimpses of an abandoned farmhouse and its environment. Subtle sounds of nature and ambience (birds, insects, wind, traffic, train whistle and faint piano music), accompanies this walk but their existence may go unnoticed to the passing traveler. If, however, the pedestrian becomes more engaged with the images and stops to study a particular unit, additional elements will begin to appear. As the viewer spends more time, the musical activity will also increase. The natural sounds and the piano become more dynamic and directional. In several interior pieces there will be a slow emergence of new images and furniture such as a piano, may appear and disappear as “ghosts” of a past realty.

Passages as a whole embodies a metaphorical journey that deals with the relationships between past events and current experiences. The structural spacing of the images create a structural element that prompts the viewer to consider the limited views and voids that divide them as an opportunity to integrate his or her own personal repertoire of memories. Traveling through this corridor allows the passerby to sense the interconnectivity of the units but in a distinct progressive order. Simultaneously, it also provides a metaphorical journey showing the relationship between memory and time, utilizing disintegration, reconstruction and reinterpretation of a unique human experience. Ambient natural sounds combine with swathes of melodic motifs to recreate the sense of memory-like visual flashbacks.


Left and center: Steve Waldeck with actual panels in progress; each is 4 feet high and 7 inches deep. Right: Didactic and control box. [photos by Jane Waldeck]


Exterior views, left to right: Outbuilding, Southwest corner, Barnyard, Milkhouse (interactive) Gate, Road (interactive) and Railroad Crossing(interactive) [photos by Brett Balogh]


Interior views, left to right: Three doors and table (interactive), Parlor (interactive), Upstairs Hall. [photos by Brett Balogh]


Interior views, left to right: Bedroom (interactive), Bathroom (interactive), Hallway, and Screen door. [photos by Brett Balogh]

The music (eight discrete channels) used in Passages is generated from a piece written by Charles Ives in the early 20th century, the Alcotts movement of the Piano Sonata #2 (Concord)-a tribute to the famous transcendentalists of Concord, MA. It was selected because, as the subtitle suggests, it is programmatic of the home of the Bronson Alcott family (Orchard House), in Concord. Not only was this house where Louisa May Alcott wrote the autobiographical Little Women, but also it served as the backdrop for the story itself. This was at a time not too distant from when the architect would have designed the farmhouse documented here in Passages. In Ives's music there are passages generated from the four-note opening motif of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C-minor (a favorite of the transcendentalists), in addition to fragments of family hymns and Scotch airs. In his Essays Before a Sonata, Ives refers to “the little old spinet-piano Sophia Thoreau gave to the Alcott children, on which Beth played the old Scotch airs, and played at the Fifth Symphony.”

In its quiescent state an algorithm produces real-time variations or a regeneration of the material from this famous sonata movement. In this installation the interior and exterior of the farmhouse are intertwined with the Beethoven motif and the additional musical material. Prolonged viewing of selected individual scenes triggers additional phrases creating a layered effect. A large number of variations are possible, but repetition is a major structural element, as it is in Beethoven and in Alcotts. When the viewer recedes from a particular site the music fades waiting for the next approach and reverts to its original, simplified material. Various phrases can rotate to different locations so that the resulting interaction with the viewer will be unexpected but within the appropriate interior or exterior area and theme. The images and music together attempt to capture a historic marker of a vanished house and the passage of time in a way again perhaps best described by Ives in Essays, as he writes about the Alcott home:

There is a commonplace beauty about "Orchard House"--a kind of spiritual sturdiness underlying its quaint picturesqueness--a kind of common triad of the New England homestead, whose overtones tell us that there must have been something aesthetic fibered in the Puritan severity--the self-sacrificing part of the ideal--a value that seems to stir a deeper feeling, a stronger sense of being nearer some perfect truth than a Gothic cathedral or an Etruscan villa. All around you, under the Concord sky, there still floats the influence of that human faith melody, transcendent and sentimental enough for the enthusiast or the cynic respectively, reflecting an innate hope--a common interest in common things and common men--a tune the Concord bards are ever playing, while they pound away at the immensities with a Beethovenlike sublimity, and with, may we say, a vehemence and perseverance--for that part of greatness is not so difficult to emulate.

Example: a description of Railroad Crossing

Railroad Crossing is one of two major anchor pieces in Passages. Its construction is similar to all of the units. It is housed in an 8-inch deep metal box that is illuminated from the rear with strategically placed neon lights. There are multiple sheets of plastic, one translucent in the rear to mask the lighting and several clear. Some of the plastic sheets are bent and formed. These create real space and are arranged to layer the image. The crossing signals are actual miniaturized constructions attached to the front of the piece. They respond to passing pedestrians by flashing their lights. Photography and painted forms on plastic create an element of reality that appears three-dimensional. All of the units seem to portray the gothic farmhouse faithfully but none are literal photo documents. Instead they are a composite of different photos printed on clear plastic sheets using a slight scale change from foreground to background for a 3-dimensional effect. This effect is enhanced by the use of an additional 3-D element in the foreground.

Railroad Crossing represents the actual environment in spirit but not in fact. The lay-out of the piece with the railroad tracks, road and distant house makes all those who know the sight believe in its reality but in fact the photo elements are composites on different planes carefully spaced, allowing the eye to focus from one to another. The swamp, the trees, grasses as well as the two steel rails of the train track all occupy their own planes and the photo material is from a variety of locations.

The corridor of Passages is filled with a myriad of environmental and musical sounds. Railroad Crossing in particular features a passing train and the warning bell along with specific segments of the piano music generated from the Charles Ives composition that is presented periodically in the corridor space carried by 8 overhead loudspeakers. In this computer-aided piece, a number of algorithms compose the musical texture. The most basic choices are those for the general musical ambience and bird selection in the corridor. Higher level algorithms were programmed to make specialized selections, triggered by the travelers as they pass in front of the six interactive panels.

In Railroad Crossing, the louder sections of The Alcotts movement that refer to the famous Beethoven “Fifth” motive (see a above) are largely chosen by a nested system of stochastic processes. The algorithm performs in somewhat of a canonic form, beginning at a comfortable tempo, but gradually accelerating to a faster, bombastic climax, evoking the impact of a passing train, crossing bell and track motion. While this music and the blinking crossing lights are triggered with each passage of a viewer, the crossing of the space by the actual train sound is precipitated in about one out of sixteen such events. In addition, Railroad Crossing features the occasional and unique sonic appearances of red wing blackbirds-a common resident of swamp areas.



Directions to Passages from Chicago (running every day, 7 a.m - 10 p.m.)
Take Edens Expressway north (I-94), watch for the spur to the I-94 toll way. Proceed north on the toll way to the Belvidere Road (Route 120 west exit.) Proceed west on Belvidere to the stop light at Route 45. Go north (a right turn) to the second stop light at Brae Loch Road and turn left to the college campus. Once on campus, turn right on Lancer Lane then left on Willow Way. Park in Lots 2 or 3. Follow the sidewalk toward the T - Technology Building, which is southwest of the D - Building. Passages is inside the T - Building. (go to top)